Punjab’s Growing Militant Problem

Anti-Ahmadi rally in RawalpindiBanned militant groups were out in force again in Punjab. In Rawalpindi, a rally supposedly against ‘unconstitutional activities’ of Ahmadis turned into a demonstration of sectarian hate as speakers demanded that Ahmadis stop all religious activities including worshipping in their own properties. Participants sent a loud message of hate and violence as they waved the flags of militant groups and carried posters of convicted murderer Mumtaz Qadri. Despite being attended by banned militant groups, the rally took place in the shadow of GHQ.

In Multan, another militant rally took place. At this one, militant groups and religious parties stood shoulder to shoulder and even threatened to attack parliament if their demands are not met. This event was attended not only by militant leaders like Hafiz Saeed, founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, but Punjab politicians like Sheikh Rasheed and even a former DG ISI, Hamid Gul.

In December, an illegal rally took place in Lahore under the banner ‘Difa-e-Pakistan’. The rally included banned militants groups that preach hatred for minorities and carry out sectarian attacks against innocent Pakistanis. This rally was no surprise. It had been planned for weeks, publicised openly with banners and posters alongside flags of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Where was the Punjab government then?

One of the key organisers of the Difa-e-Pakistan movement is the founder of banned sectarian militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Malik Ishaq. The extremist militant leader has been in and out of jail, but even when he is behind bars, he has received a monthly stipend from the government of Punjab.

Punjab has a growing militant problem. This is not a problem of hyper-conservative or even extremist views growing in the province. It’s not even a problem of extremist groups starting to organise in Punjab. Those problems have come and already past. Extremists have been organised, and now the organisations are boldly taking to the streets in the shadow of GHQ. They are recruiting and demonstrating in the backyard of Punjab Provincial Assembly. Each time banned groups hold another rally, another recruiting drive without receiving the slightest remark from Punjab authorities, the message they receive is that they are not only tolerated, but silently approved.

A common refrain at political rallies is the need to defend the nation’s sovereignty. These remarks are typically followed by demands to close NATO supply lines, to reject MFN status for India, or to take some other action against a perceived external threat. Even the internal threats are typically discussed as ethnic groups like MQM or BLA. Meanwhile, extremist militants are holding rallies and spreading messages of sectarian hate and threatening to ‘besiege’ the state if their demands are not met. These same groups are carrying out armed attacks against innocent Pakistani citizens. Their leaders are receiving support from politicians and former intelligence officers. This is the real threat to the nation’s sovereignty. When will we take notice of it?

Roti ki koi shehriat nahi hoti

Red Cross office where gunmen kidnapped aid workers

Two items in the news this week should be dominating the discussion of current events. First is that 100 people in Lahore have now died from contaminated drugs. Adding insult to injury is that fact that, according to Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif, the victims tended to be the poor who received the drugs for free. The second news item that should be driving the public discussion is the rising number of kidnappings of foreign aid workers.

It infuriates me when I hear people like Imran Khan talk about refusing all foreign aid. The wealthy celebrity Imran Khan has never wanted for anything in life and will never have to humbly accept aid to feed himself and his children. If foreign aid is refused, his comfortable life will not be affected. But that doesn’t mean that nobody’s lives will.

Last year, Government of Punjab chose to turn down an American offer of $127 million for health care. It was a purely political move by the Pubjab government who hoped to woo voters by acting tough on America after the Abbottabad operation. Shahbaz Sharif said the decision was taken to “get rid of the foreign shackles”. But what was the real outcome? Hospitals could not afford critical supplies and schools could not be built. It was the poor who suffered.

There are two common excuses for being against foreign aid. The first is that foreign aid workers are secretly intelligence agents trying to destabilise Pakistan. To believe this is to believe that a 70-year-old man with heart disease is CIA’s top secret agent. If this is the case, we should be rejoicing. What do we have to worry about?

The second excuse is that foreign aid workers are just trying to win ‘hearts and minds’ and that they are not sincere in their charity. Why else would they print USAID on things if it wasn’t just a public relations campaign to spread sympathy for the West? But can’t the same be asked of groups like Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation who never fails to cover everything in sight with their name and logo? Isn’t FIF just a PR wing of Hafiz Saeed’s ‘other’ groups? Get some food, hear a lecture on the glorious Kashmiri jihad.

I’m a firm believer that aid is not the solution to the country’s problems, and that increased trade and private investment are what is really needed if we are going to be able to work our way out of the economic hole that we find ourselves in today. But I am not so blind and uncaring to believe that some aid is not absolutely necessary for the time being. And letting the poor starve or die from lack of medication will not improve my ‘self esteem’.

Militants are treating the poor as their hostages. They don’t have to hold a gun to the poors’ heads. Their weapons are the food and medicine that the poor need to live. The poor don’t ask about a food’s nationality. They don’t ask medicine where it prays. They don’t care if the person helping them is Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Pakistani, American, or Italian. And we shouldn’t either.

Pakistan’s First Oscar Nomination

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy

It came as a surprise to me when I read this Dawn article yesterday talking about Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, journalist and documentarian, becoming the first ever Pakistani film maker to earn an Oscar nomination with her film ‘Saving Face’. Having gotten used to the clichéd and extremely average movies coming out of our very own beloved ‘Lollywood’, it got me curious.

Since I had heard of her name before but not followed her work closely, this news got me interested and I started to do my research. According to the Oscars’ website the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has nominated ‘Saving Face’, a documentary directed by Pakistani investigative filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Daniel Junge, for an Oscar in the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category.

An in-depth interview with Sharmeen Obiad Chinoy shows that she is a conscientious member of the society who works with refugees, women’s and rights groups. Most of her work features on children and their struggles, especially in places of conflict. She received an Emmy Award for her film ‘Pakistan’s Taliban Generation’. It was the first of its kind movie that focused on how children were being recruited by Taliban back in 2008. She also addressed the issue of how those children had no idea what was going on in the world and had no access to radio, television, or newspapers. With an extensive background in journalism, Sharmeen Chinoy also studied on countering extremist ideologies and explained the link between religious parties and extremist groups in her movie.

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy has not limited her movie-making portfolio to just Pakistan but has made movies in the continents of Europe Africa and North America also. She has roughly 16 movies under her belt and has received numerous awards from all over the world for her work. She is renowned for producing deeply moving character focused content, and always addresses cultural and political inequality in the system. Paul Haggart in his article in The Guardian says:

“Five of Obaid-Chinoy’s films concern her native Pakistan, but she has also made documentaries about women in Saudi Arabia, Native American women in Canada, illegal abortions in the Philippines, Muslims in Sweden and the ill-treatment of Zimbabwean migrants in South Africa. Her portfolio is a global tour of gender oppression and social injustice”.

Shirmeen Chinoy also refuses to let the taboo image of Muslim women in a society stop her. She is very vocal about religious freedom and education for women in Islam. She says:

“Where in the Qur’an does it say a woman must cover her face? I’ve read it front to back and I can’t find it”.

Having interacted with and studied various religious organizations, she is also very vocal about radical Islamization that is slowly up in our society:

“I find the political manipulation of Islam to be very troubling. We can’t have a them-and-us attitude. We are part of this planet and we share it with the rest of humanity”.

According to Daily Times her movie ‘Saving Face’ is a story about women struggling for justice and the movie shows their ‘resilience and unwavering strength‘. Daily Times also reports that this observational documentary was filmed entirely in Pakistan, primarily in the Saraiki belt in addition to Rawalpindi, Karachi and Islamabad. The movie is set to air on America’s premier television cable network HBO, on March 8, 2012.

How to eliminate foreign meddling in Pakistan

If there’s one thing that is virtually agreed upon across our politically divided nation it is that there is too much foreign meddling in Pakistan. Where people tend to disagree is on the details. Is the problem America’s war on terror? Or is it Wahhabi madrassas funded from the Gulf? Or is it secret Hindu-Zionist agents who landed in space ships? Whatever foreign group you think is behind all the nation’s ills, you the solution is always the same – kick them out! The question that is asked less often, though, is why all these foreigners supposedly want in. Actually, this could be the question that reveals the answer.

The most common reply you hear is that foreigners are meddling in Pakistan as part of a war against Muslims. Honestly, this doesn’t make any sense. Where is the war against Muslims in Indonesia? Or the war against Muslims in Malaysia, or Bangladesh, or any of the other Muslim countries where foreigners are not deeply involved in the country’s politics? What about Egypt where the religious parties are taking control through democratic elections and the Western countries that are supposedly at war against Muslims are actually supporting them? Maybe we’re looking at things backwards.

All sorts of allegations have been made against the present and past governments accusing officials of going to foreign powers and requesting help in internal political conflicts. Mansoor Ijaz’s infamous memo was supposedly a request for the Americans to help stave off a coup being plotted by the ISI (this is Mansoor Ijaz’s claim, not mine). The PM was accused of phoning the British High Commissioner for help, a charge both he and the British strongly deny. Before that, the Sharifs had gone to the Americans to request help averting a coup. Now it seems that even Musharraf has a memo of his own.

Last week it was reported that influential royals from the Middle East were working behind the scenes to defuse tensions between the military and civilians. The Saudis, of course, have famously claimed to be “participants” in Pakistan’s internal affairs and have even allegedly sought to overthrow the government in the past.

Actually, going to foreign powers and seeking help was not started by civilian officials, but the military. As a young independent nation, our military leaders sought an alliance with America to level the balance of power with India. Before we had a nuclear deterrence, we had an American deterrence.

Gen. Zia-ul-Haq perfected this practice by convincing the Americans that he was their top ally in their war against communism. Generals have understood from the beginning that not only would such alliances with foreign powers provide them the latest in weapons and military technologies and strategies, but would also help keep them in power. The Americans for decades were willing to support military regimes if they pledged to keep out communists. By the time Gen Musharraf staged his own coup and usurped power, he knew to change ‘communist’ to ‘Islamist’, but his script remained virtually the same.

This is why civilians started going to foreign powers asking for help. They knew that the foreign powers had been the patrons of the military regimes because the generals had convinced them that military regimes were necessary to protect the foreigners’ own interests at that time, and that they would transition to democracy once the threat had passed. Only the threat never passed. So the civilians started going to the foreign governments to tell them that they were being conned.

So, how do we get foreigners to stop meddling in Pakistan’s politics? The answer seems pretty clear. The first step is to get the military to stop meddling in politics. If the military stops meddling in politics and acts within the bounds of its constitutional role, then the civilians will not feel compelled to go to foreign powers to ask for help against coups. Once the military is not involved in politics, decisions about policy will be made by elected officials as per the constitution. And if the elected officials are allowing foreigners to dictate policy, then we vote them out of office – an option we don’t have with the military. In other words, the only way to end foreign meddling is through strengthening democracy.

Decades of rule by military regimes and weak civilian regimes where the military dictated policies from behind the scenes are what created the mess of foreign meddling in our internal affairs. It’s time to try something new. If you really want change in Pakistan, support democracy.

Memogate: Another contradiction? Time to wrap it up…

I would not dare to term Mansoor Ijaz as a bald faced liar. Mr Ijaz is an ultra-wealthy international businessman represented by attorney Akram Shiekh and the special guest of the Army for an appearance before the Supreme Court. That is not a hornets nest I want to find myself in the middle of. So let me be clear: I am not at all suggesting that Mansoor Ijaz is a bald faced liar. I just think he happens to be prone to a lot of ‘mistakes’ when it comes to things like ‘facts’, and that the things he say seem to be ‘misunderstood’ quite a bit.

Most recently, Mansoor Ijaz gave an interview to Geo where he told a reporter that he had a conference call with the US State Department who assured him of the US’s support for his trip to Pakistan next Tuesday.

“I had a conference call with the US State Department a couple of days ago. The US government will provide the support that they always do for US citizens,” Ijaz said in the interview in London.

“They (the US government) made their official position very clear and I made my reasons for going very clear. They understand it’s a high profile case and they understand I am a reasonably high-profile American citizen,” he added.

“And I think If, god forbid, anything goes wrong they will certainly be there to help my family make sure that things got sorted out. I am absolutely confident that the American government will do the right thing if something went wrong,” he said without elaborating what could possibly go wrong.

The next day, though, the US Embassy offered a different story.

US embassy in Islamabad said on Saturday that no security has been assured to Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz during his visit to Pakistan where he is due to appear before a commission formed to investigate the memogate case on January 24, Geo News reported.

US embassy spokesman was speaking to Geo News and told that Ijaz would be visiting Pakistan as a common US national and would be entitled to avail all the facilities that other Americans get here.

The spokesman made it clear that Ijaz has not been committed any security during his visit

Actually, this is only the latest in a series of ‘mistakes’ or ‘misunderstandings’ that seem to go back to the beginning of the entire case. First there were the statements of Mansoor Ijaz’s good friend Gen Jim Jones who contradicted Ijaz’s claims. Then there was Mansoor Ijaz clearly accusing DG ISI of plotting a coup, only to turn around and claim that he was simply misunderstood. Then there’s the problem with Mansoor Ijaz’s sworn affidavit to the Supreme Court which claims that the memo was written not by Husain Haqqani or Asif Zardari but by “senior active and former Pakistan government officials, some of whom served at the highest levels of the military-intelligence directorates in recent years, and as senior political officers of the civilian government”. The only constant in Mansoor Ijaz’s story seems to be that it will change.

So what are we to make of this Mansoor Ijaz who can’t seem to get his facts right? Who accuses everyone of everything under the sun? Maybe he’s too distracted by the sordid details of his time with ‘Nasty Nancy’ to remember the details of any conversations. Maybe he’s just invented the whole thing out of some bizarre scheme to get famous. Maybe next week we’ll see him and Veena Malik parading around together. Who knows?

What we do know is that we’re spending an immense amount of resources on a case based on the word of this guy.

Mansoor Ijaz

How much is it costing the Supreme Court to waste its time on this case? How much is it costing the Army? And not only in terms of Rupees, but in terms of opportunity costs. In other words, don’t the Supreme Court and the Army have better things to do?

Mansoor Ijaz is supposed to appear in the Court next week. Ironically, he is set to appear under the special protection of the military and ISI. His own country seems to have abandoned him. I don’t know if he will appear or not. He hasn’t shown up a few times already, though he was ready with a quick excuse as always. I just hope this whole drama gets wrapped up soon. At this point it has become predictable and boring.